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By David Guyatt


It remained one of the better kept secrets of the Falklands war.  As far back as 1981, a small number of Type 22 frigates had tested the top secret weapon system called “Laser Dazzle Sight,”(LDS).  After sea trials it was quickly fitted to Royal Naval ships in time for the Falklands campaign.  These included HMS Hermes, Brilliant, Broadsword, Invincible and Argonaut.  During the British landings at San Carlos Waters, high speed, wave-skipping Argentinean pilots, met a dazzling array of laser beams designed to blind them.

 It was one of the first uses of so called “Non Lethal Weapons.”  The term, spun from the descriptive yarn of Pentagon PR peddlers - was soon to become “Less Than Lethal.”  Both descriptions remain interchangeable and, today, are often “packaged” along with another military euphemism: “Soft Kill Technologies.”  Blood, guts and especially death are no longer politically acceptable.

Today’s Non Lethal armoury boasts a bewildering array of sophisticated new and old tech weapons.  At the lower end of the scale these include Pepper sprays, CS gas, Mace, Plastic bullets, glue guns, water cannons, anti-personnel foams and the modern equivalent of Roman amphitheatre Gladiatorial nets - discharged from a specially adapted shotgun.  At the higher end there are, as we have seen, an assortment of dazzling or “blinding” lasers; acoustic, Radio-frequency (RF) and Directed Energy Weapons (DEW).


 Yet another category relies solely on chemicals, designed for anti-materiel purposes.  The modern “jet-jockey” fighter pilot could just as easily be tasked with spraying a formation of tanks with aerosol dispensing “combustion interferants.” As with more generally known ordnance.  By exposing a diesel engine to a concentration of just 3% acetylene, results in such severe pre-ignition difficulties that the engine self-destructs in a matter of seconds.  Without mobility, even the most sophisticated muli-million dollar tank is just a heap of scrap metal.  This system has already been designed and tested, formed from a binary chemical warhead composed from calcium carbide and a water gel.

 Behind the lines of battle, another low level fighter bomber discharges it cargo of metal eating microbes on formations of second wave tanks held in reserve.  Like alien bugs from some futuristic sci-fi movie, the microbes literally chew metal and armour to pieces - in record time.  Known as chemical metal-embrittlement agents, these are composed of substances that alter the crystal structure of metals, wrecking chaos with every mouthful. 

 The Dr. Strangelove’s who create these visions of how future war is to be fought, have even more nasty surprises in store for the enemy tank crew.  If their engine combustion hasn’t been interfered with by “interferants,” and they’ve managed to avoid becoming a tasty morsel for the metal chewing microbes, they might be deluged in strange adhesives - known as “Roach Motel” polymers - which glue them to the spot.  Failing this they could easily be sprayed with “Teflon confetti,” an anti-traction lubricant that reduces friction - making surfaces far too slippery to drive on.  But even this is not all.  Having escaped the previous non lethal weapon attacks, they come unstuck at the last hurdle as an anti-tank round whistles overhead and explodes, dowsing them with a jellied “super-acid” which promptly destroys all their optics, rendering the crew blind.

 In addition, the enemy’s “soft-skinned” trucks, carrying men and supplies to the battle front will come in for a gentle battering.  Special chemical compounds would be sprayed above them, or a surface area coated ahead of their convoy.  As soon as the tyres of the trucks hit the chemical a reaction occurs, rendering them brittle and useless.  Aircraft too, can be attacked with this compound, embrittling all rubber seals and tyres.

 The announcement of these other non-lethal weapons were met with hoots of derision by some of the media, resulting in a series of feature articles with titles like “Bang You’re Alive,” “Surrender or We’ll Slime You” and “What Price Sticky Foam.”  Yet underlying the surface jesting, some deadly serious debates were being conducted.  The International Committee of the Red Cross viewed some of these developments with great concern.  Charged with implementing the Geneva Conventions on warfare, the ICRC took a long, hard look at the prospect of these future weapons.  They didn’t entirely like what they saw. 

 On the other side of the Atlantic, however, the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) established their own non-lethal “Task Force.”  Their report, published in 1995, was far more upbeat, saying “… non-lethal technologies could be particularly effective in a number of conflicts…”  The premier US player in foreign relations - and possessing enormous domestic political clout - the CFR report constituted a green light to big-spending US military planners and weapon manufacturers.


 While the “sticky foam” and “Roach Motel polymers” caught the imagination of the popular press, the really “big bucks” non lethal R&D projects remained eclipsed behind a heavy curtain of secrecy.  Major US government weapon laboratories including Los Alamos, Sandia, Edgewood, Harry Diamond and Picatinny went in to high gear developing less lethal weapons for the new electromagnetic battlefield.

 Scientists and technicians employed in these facilities daily wrestle with the darkest visions of hell that a free spending nation can afford.  This, in reality, is the “Star Wars” programme of the next millennium.  Known as “disabling technologies” these include infrasound weapons.  Massive banks of high wattage speakers, and higher powered amplifiers beat out a tattoo of low frequency sound waves that penetrate through walls and armoured vehicles like a crossbow-bolt passes through an apple.  The enemy, whether they be regular soldiers or terrorists wilt under the unseen bombardment.  First they suffer disorientation, then begin vomiting and defecating until they are rendered combat “ineffective.”  Ultrasound beam devices cause similar reactions but can, if beamed at sufficient densities, result in permanent hearing damage and can lead to death.  Both can be arrayed in underwater environments, for example against divers, where their output is automatically amplified.

 High Powered Microwaves (HPM) munitions are also a fundamental part of the non lethal concept.  These can effectively disable or destroy aircraft, missiles, armoured vehicles and other equipment by targeting the receiving diodes in radars and communication devices, as well a wrecking havoc with computer “bits.”  The effect is to render an enemy blind, and incommunicado.  Because Microwaves are thermal in character they can also burn out circuits and destroy metallic objects.

 One of the principal backbones of the emerging Directed Energy Weapon Systems (DEWS), Microwaves are also known to have serious debilitating effects on humans.  A rapid increase in body temperature and especially body organs as a result of microwave bombardment can be fatal.  At lower levels known effects include modifications in behaviour patterns and can lead to temporary stupefaction.  For this reason HPM also come under the banner of “confusion weapons.”  Unlike conventional munitions which require a clip or belt of ammunition, HPM’s - providing they have continued access to a ready power source - can continue firing endlessly.

 Yet, the most contentious emotions in the on-going non-lethal debate focus on the use of these devices in domestic law enforcement situations.  Inside the US Defence Department an Orwellian sounding programme known as “Operations Other Than War,” raise the hackles of those who view government integrity with a jaundiced eye.  In a nutshell, Operations Other Than War, will be directed to riot control, crowd control and other potentially ubiquitous uses.  The euphemism for weapons which can, and are, being “rotated” to these domestic law enforcement roles are known simply as “dual use technology.” 


 The scenario goes something like this.  A lone policeman walking his beat is confronted with a man armed with a knife.  Quick as a flash he un-slings his converted shotgun, pulls the trigger and a weighted net leaps at the assailant sending him crashing to the floor in tangles.  The policeman can now safely approach.  If the attacker still show signs of aggression, he can be sprayed in the face with one of the many available debilitating sprays.  His breathing severely inhibited the attacker is rendered passive, permitting the law officer to slip a pair of handcuffs on, and drag him coughing and retching to the precinct station.

 A not dissimilar picture focuses on the use of electronic batons.  Once prodded, the riotous individual is thrown to the ground, crackling with 40,000 plus volts of elec-trickery meandering at the speed of light through his body.  Tasers, are another possibility.  These are guns that fire prods which, on contact, zap an assailant with a crippling jolt of electric energy.  Foam guns and Glue guns - both of which immobilise the target by cementing him in place - round off future cops’ belt-hitched personal defence ensemble.  Optional accessories might include the “Soft Rag,” a non-lethal rubber bullet fired from an M16 Assault rifle.  Shaped like a miniature, flying Swiss roll - sans chocolate - the “Rag” will knock a target head over heels. 

 Many of these devices appear patently ineffective in real-life, fast-paced “street” situations, whilst others border on the ludicrous.  Some, of course, like CS gasses and rubber bullets have proven effective - and often fatal.  The real fears focus on the street use of highly sophisticated electromagnetic as well as germ weapons.  High Powered Microwaves, says Dr. Steve Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists, are “almost uniquely intrusive.”  He adds that they “do not simply attack a person’s body.  Rather they reach all the way into a person’s mind…”  These are the much touted “confusion weapons.”  Highly classified, little is known about them. 

 The chemical and biological spectrum however, is causing equal concern in some quarters.  The International Committee of the Red Cross are keeping a watching brief on developments in “biotechnology and genetic engineering.”  This follows “rumours and allegations” of covert developments in the realm of “gene specific” biological and toxin weapons for “political purposes.” Genone mapping together with wider DNA fingerprinting may have lead to the identification of racial differences.  These are then targeted by “smart” biological and viral weapons.  At the low end of the scale this could, theoretically, lead to a planned, but deniable irruption of debilitating influenza in a target race, for example Black protesters marching on Washington DC.

 Despite the Pentagon and Law Enforcement hype, non lethal weapons can truly be deadly.  Yet it is in the political sphere that growing, long term public distaste may result in the ultimate death of non lethal weaponry?

 Non lethal sedatives - an answer to crowd control

 The US military  - who are at the forefront of non-lethal weapons developments - have also investigated the covert use of “long lasting sedatives” which could be secreted in food supplies.  In the event that spiking food staples proves difficult, sedatives could just as well be dispersed via more customary methods - low flying Cruise missiles or innocent looking aircraft.  Such scenarios have become increasingly attractive to military planners following the disastrous Somalia “peace keeping” operation.  In one US Army publication a future scenario was painted which co-ordinated this use of “drug-assisted subliminal conditioning” with the more usual “psychological operations.”

 The HERF Gun - Killing computers, downing aircraft

 It is known that both the US and Britain’s own Ministry of Defence have developed a High Energy Radio Frequency gun.  This can so severely disrupt computers that a gang of criminals have been extracting tens of millions of dollars from international banks under threat of attacking their global computer systems.  It is also rumoured that the HERF gun can attack aircraft electronics resulting in unexplained crashes.  This has led to a series of allegations by conspiracists surrounding the downing of a number of aircraft which are said to have “political” overtones.

 Techo-sanctions - The threat to go non-lethal

 Former US Army Chief of Staff, General Edward “Shy” Meyer is an ardent fan of non-lethality.  Meyer believes these weapons provide the muscle to threaten use against some enemies  - a sort of “techo sanction” - which might avoid military confrontation altogether.  Talking of Operation Desert Storm, Meyer says “ if you had the ability to make all the motor-driven vehicles unable to move without killing any Iraqi’s, that would be a relatively peaceful and nonlethal solution to a very difficult international problem.”  Others are less sure.  An air armada would have still been necessary to suppress Saddam Hussein’s mammoth anti-aircraft arsenal - in order to deliver the non lethal dose of combustion inhibitors. 


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